HL Deb 12 October 1998 vol 593 cc698-9

3.5 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Russian Federation's military exercise in August, code-named "Exercise Return" and involving parachute landings close to the borders of central Europe, falls within their definition of creating stability within the Baltic region.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Government accept the rights of sovereign nations to undertake military training exercises. They do not believe that "Exercise Return" seriously affected regional security. This exercise was not large enough for notification under the Vienna document on confidence and security-building measures of 1994. However, the Government hope that nations which undertake such exercises will consider the potential concerns of neighbouring states when planning them.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her helpful reply. Does she not agree that the politically and economically bankrupt regime which governs the long-suffering Russian people could better spend its time and resources putting its own house in order rather than harassing and provoking the Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania? Will she praise all three Baltic states for their work in supporting their Russian minorities and, indeed, integrating them while Russia has defaulted on paying pensions to those minorities? In particular, will the Government congratulate Lithuania which has, over the summer, given to the starving people of Kaliningrad 1.25 million dollars in aid to prevent them from starving?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Government's position is that states have the right to undertake military training exercises. I reiterate that point to the noble Earl. That exercise took place in late August. As I expect the noble Earl knows, the Latvians undertook an exercise on 13th June on the Latvian-Russian border for which they did not give advance notice. One must bear that in mind.

On the noble Earl's substantive point about the way in which the Baltic states are dealing with the Russian minorities, I can agree with a great deal of what he said. The claims of significant human rights problems in Latvia are largely unfounded. I would agree with the noble Earl that much progress has been made on the integration of minority populations. In particular, we applaud the Latvian vote of 3rd October to bring in amendments to ease the naturalisation process of the Russian minority. That was extremely encouraging, but, of course, more still needs to be done.